SA Collins

Words and Errata

M/M Romance

With a plate full of fluff, where do I put my literature?

With a plate full of fluff, where do I put my literature?

 

With a plate full of fluffy words, where does the art of prose fit?

With a plate full of fluffy words, where does the art of prose fit?

 

Stream of Consciousness Time Here:

This one is a pure rant. I accept any bullshit flung my way from this vomit of “where’s the fucking art” in writing that I am about to sling your way.

This past year I woke up after toying for (literally) years with story ideas that I’d always wanted to put down. Mostly for my own amusement, with the odd thought that maybe, just maybe, someone else out there might find them of interest. And maybe with an eye to posterity (of some sort) that I was leaving behind that “I was here.” A stake in the proverbial literary catalog, of sorts.

So I started this website, started to post my WIPs (Works In Progress), started to blog about the craft of writing (which I take VERY seriously), started to cultivate getting to know other authors out there. I’ve gotten to know a few. I’ve chatted with some at length. Mostly I try to keep away from it all because to a great degree it’s been rather demoralizing as I write very differently from what they do. I know I am the oddball out. I know that my works don’t fit their often myopic mold.

I grouse at my poor husband about it all the time. I do pity him having to listen to me carry on about this.  And I do, and I know it might sound like my little choo-choo has gone completely ’round the bend at times.

My issue? Most of what I read now doesn’t have any real depth to it. It’s all fucking fluff. Fluff is what’s selling. Literally I have close to 1200 books on my nook alone and I’ll start several of them in tandem, trying to find something with which to hang my literary hat on and say – “Now we have something here, boys and girls.”

But I suppose that in this day and age of rapid information, of stories in television that must be told quickly, that our society has gotten used to a steady diet of sugary and thinly written prose as if it were the real thing: true literature. How do I come to this? Because there are Facebook groups set up by authors with LITERATURE in their title. As if using that word alone will elevate the level of their writing.

I see reviews of works I’ve picked up (primarily, because of those reviews) where the author is lauded with “powerful writing” or “story that moved me to tears” and read the damned thing and went – WHAT THE BLOODY FUCK??! I didn’t even bother to review it online. It wasn’t even worth my responding to it. More often than not it was better spent lining the bottom of my cat box (if I’d bothered to buy the actual paperback). Thankfully, 98% of my library is now digital so the death of trees is not a consideration for me.

I don’t write genre fiction. If my works tend to lean into some specific genre then it is a prop no more than the dress I may put a character in. Why? Because I deal in character studies. I deal in diving deeply into the psyche of a given protag with all of their inner-monologues. I want you to know who they are – unequivocally.

Oh, I know I have that in my signature line in my email: SA Collins, Author of Gay Literature Fiction across multiple sub-genres.  So I try to be honest about what I do. It is the LITERATURE part of that signature that means the most to me.

The question I keep coming back to is: Why can’t the writing be better? Jesus, sometimes I feel like I have ants crawling all over me as I read something that got five stars when I’d rather piss all over the work. And it’s not limited to just M/M Romance here (though to a great degree that genre hovers barely above the fan fic it was recently born out of). I used to remind the women who have made it into an industry on its own that it had roots in the MALE writers of the previous century. That their iteration of it only came into fruition during the gaieties of the 1990’s. Now I am not so sure. Why? Because those men – John Rechy, Gordon Merrick, to even EM Forster, Langston Hughes and the great Oscar Wilde – those men wrote real blood and bones literature. It truly isn’t the same as the M/M fluff that is out there masquerading as powerful prose.

And to be clear, I’m not saying I am the next Forster or Rechy. I am still working at my craft. But I am not about the sales. Jesus, was there ever a fucking cop out than to be totally capitalistic about it? Does the success of the work not speak for itself without it having to translate into dollars/pounds/pesos or the like?

I get that we all want to pay bills. I get that making a living doing the thing we love most is important to us. But how many great stories have been modified, quelled, softened or outright killed by their own author because there is the fear that “oh, this one won’t be as popular as that fangless disco sparkly vampire shit that’s all the rage right now?”

I know not everyone is up to the task of writing real literature. I get that. Jesus, what a bland fucking world that would be if we all were the Wildes of our times? It would be a pretty bitchy crowd as well.

But it doesn’t end with these self-pubbed or god forbid, small publishing boutique houses, who think they’ve become the barometer of what’s acceptable and can qualify as real literature or even proper storytelling.

And just what the fuck happened to real literature?

That’s what I’d like to know. Even the “NYT Best-Seller” list has questionable material out there.

50 Shades of SHIT, much? (I mean, have you read it?!)

 

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Harper Lee is about to have her sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird (a book I adored as a teen) published after some 40+ years. My first thought – who cares if it’s shit? It’s gonna be much better written than the crap people are slinging around now.

And it isn’t limited to books either.

Let’s take television writing, for example –

Two character driven shows I am currently caught up with (that I was certain were going to get cancelled) have somehow miraculously survived (to my absolute shock):

HBO’s Looking

The Cast of HBO's LOOKING (currently running season 2)

The Cast of HBO’s LOOKING (currently running season 2)

 

and Showtime’s Penny Dreadful

 

The brilliant cast of Showtime's PENNY DREADFUL

The brilliant cast of Showtime’s PENNY DREADFUL

 

The first (Looking) has come under a lot of fire from the gay community as well as the mainstream audiences. The first complaint lodged at it – it was an unrealistic portrayal of the gay community. Okay, perhaps for some of you. Yet, living in the SF Bay Area as I do (and yeah, even in the goddamned city itself) I gotta tell ya, I was more pleased than not by their first season voyage. So how did I come by to give them a pass when so many of my community seemed to shit-can it?

They said it was boring, it moved too slow.

I love slow.

I love the unveiling or unraveling of a character as they spiral out of control or try like hell just to hold onto what they think will work for them even when every indication is that it won’t. And can I stop and just laud Raul Castillo for a moment? His Ritchie completely slays me. His character is so to the core of who Latinos in the gay context are (don’t let the nom de plume fool ya, I am half-Latino). He doesn’t represent every gay Latino – who could? – but what he does brilliantly is that he encapsulates the culture so well that you feel his family roots in every scene he’s in. I get giddy as a school girl when he’s on the screen. And Lauren Weedman‘s Doris is one of the BEST written women’s roles out there. I am literally on pins and needles when she’s on screen. Her Doris is a knock-it-out of the park performance that can’t be missed.

 

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The push against slow reveal? Hmm, sound familiar from my argument above? Rapid information age, much?

What I liked about Looking was exactly that – it was a slow reveal of these guys lives. And yeah not all races were equally represented. I get that. But hey, news flash – neither is the other hit on HBO’s roster – GIRLS. No one seems to be bagging on that show about it’s lack of inclusion. Yet, Looking got hammered (both comedically by a trashy assed group out of LA who did their rather pedestrian attempt at a comedy spoof which I found wholly un-funny, and by several critics of the show who blogged (rather poorly worded rambles, I might add) about what didn’t work for them). Fine. I accept that Looking may not be for everyone. BUT what I do rail against it the fucking notion that you have to have all your shit answered in the first five minutes of the goddamned show or you label it BORING. Give the writers a fucking chance to flesh them out, will ya before saying – eh, it’s boring!!

News flash, all of our lives to a great degree are. Maybe that was the fucking point of the show – a little realism rather than heightened drama from the first minute of an ep to the last?

Guess what: You’re boring, fucktard for thinking that slow reveal is boring.  (I know, I know – not very prosaic of me, is it? Can’t help it – I’m at the end of my tether with this shit).

Characters are getting more and more stifled because of rapid writing and thinly dressed paper doll characters. I would think it safe to say that 95% of what’s out there in genre fiction is barely fleshed out. Some of it is appalling that it past muster on someone’s – ‘ooh, let’s get that one out there for the masses‘ with the desire to get them to drink the damned poorly written, thinly flavored Kool-aid.

Also, sidebar: what’s with the tiny assed novels (which are more like wordy brochures/pamphlets in my book) lately? Angels V1 is 207K words and V2 is topping out at a whopping 752K (and I ain’t done with it yet)! My work is epically big. And those that have read it have commented that it’s all pretty damned relevant – not much to cut there.  Not that length is any measure of what is literature. I know that. It is the quality of the writing that elevates it to that level.

(Puts soap box away on this little side rant.)

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In the case of Showtime’s brilliant Penny Dreadful, I am overwhelmed by the writing style of that show. Gay writer and creator John Logan is a brilliant craftsman of the modern age in my book. I am a fanboy for life with this guy.

To have the brilliance of tackling most of the great gothic horror monsters in one show and of diving deeply into their strive to hold onto some small thread of their humanity is nothing short of a brilliant take on the work. I love that this show doesn’t go from one ep to the next where you think it will go. No, Mr. Logan gives us sweet and well written bon monts, gently peeling back layer upon layer of the character as we dive into their core.  Characters that are desperate to hold onto that humanity at all costs, when they know their darker monsters are what make them truly strong enough to survive in their harsh world.

One episode sticks out most for me. It was a complete diversion from the main story arc but was at the root of why the whole series was being revealed in the first place.  It’s focus was on the backstory of Eva Green’s character of Miss Ives and her past history with Mina. It went way out of the scope of the current arc, but it informed us of why we were where we were in the main storyline.

THAT, my friends, is brilliant and well-crafted prose. I nearly, literarily speaking, creamed in my jeans over this type of work. Only then to have a sudden fear creep over me that – “No, this is too good. It’ll get shit-canned for sure. The masses won’t keep watching this type of character driven period drama.” But apparently, Showtime was invested enough that Mr. Logan and crew were given not only a renewal part way into the first season, but also that they’ve bought into how Logan is revealing these iconic and well loved characters for a new audience. And they increased the number of episodes for the second season! Bang on brilliant in my book!

And I get that some people don’t like high prose writing. Not everyone finds Anne Rice’s works to their liking. I happen to love her writing style. As I do with her son, Christopher. Though I find his gushy blog ramble on M/M romance of late to be a bit out there.

I know fluff sells, because most of us live those boring damned lives and want some escapism to give us some much needed pent up steam release. I get it. But we’ve become dangerously weened off the good stuff in favor of this steady diet of fluff. Are we in peril of becoming literary diabetic from all this sugary coated ramble that we’re passing of as “5 star” writing?

Jesus, has the bar become that low now?

And for a guy like me who actually is trying to write the real literature stuff (and no, my NaNoWriMo HO’M,O wasn’t an attempt to do that – though I did try to elevate the prose a bit – it was more of my feeble attempt at fluff for a fan of mine since he loves werewolves so much – I wanted to have a bit of fun with his topic of choice) where do I fit in on the personal library plate? And I constantly hone my craft to look at the actual prose, to see if what I’ve worded serves the character to the best possible degree.

Not that everyone gets it, either. I mistakenly passed off Angels of Mercy to a small boutique house who simply didn’t get what the work was about – why? Because they don’t have anything like it in their roster. How do I know ? Well, a decent sized chunk of what I have on my nook was bought from that house. I think after I’ve perused that much of their catalog I get what they deem to be publishable. The response from my submittal – your character repeats what he says in his head a lot. It is what teenagers do to solidify that what they perceive is indeed real or not. They are constantly pulse checking where they are with others and with themselves. But the acquisitions person who picked up the work couldn’t get past their formula for the books they were churning out. And the size of the work was an issue.

To which I nearly laughed out loud – “Uh, do you remember what your youth was like? Cause the character is a teenaged boy who is living in fear of each day being ‘the day’ he will be beaten to a pulp. He is constantly checking and re-checking his world. It is a psychological element to his character. How do I know this? BECAUSE it is from my own journals and notes AS A GAY YOUNG BOY IN HIGH SCHOOL. The shit was REAL.” But hey, I am sorry that it didn’t fit into your formulaic and myopic view of what was “selling.”

I’ve decided that Angels is too great a work to go through the foibles of boutique publishing or even self-pubbing. It may mean that it ultimately sits on the shelf in my house and on a computer until it can find a proper home (probably via an actual literary agent shopping it around for me – so there’s that battle to wage down he road). And even with that sort of backing, it is an extreme long shot that it would do well. I get that. There’s simply too much white noise fluff out there to weed through.

The hubby swears it will find a home with a proper publisher and it WILL get read by the masses. I wish I had his confidence. I don’t.

What I do know, is that Angels captures that waffling of youth quite well (and I am not tooting my own horn here – I’ve had several people read the work in its current form and all unilaterally have said it isn’t genre fiction – what I’ve got is real literature and that it’s pretty bang on the money with how I did it).

I just don’t know if my work will ultimately sell, mostly because I am caught up with writing about inner struggles that are 70% or more inner-monologue. Think of Rice’s Louis or Lestat on steroids and you’ll get the picture.

That’s my worry. I write what I write, but ultimately to what end? I don’t have an answer for that. All I see is five star ratings for stuff that I just can’t see the value in it. And I have to cop to the fact that it is selling hands-down. But I think that is because they’ve (the mainstream buying audience) been fed a steady diet of pedestrian prose, both in book and media form, that is passing itself off as great (and powerfully moving) writing. But is being a best-selling author truly the only barometer of a well-crafted work? Let’s be honest, I don’t think much of the fluff being passed around here will be remembered seventy years or so down the line. It’s written for immediacy in selling and the in the moment hype. It has no lasting purpose, not really. Let’s be honest.

Maybe that’s why I keep reading the classics. I need to be reminded why Look Homeward Angel was a brilliant piece of fiction.  Or my favorite, Maurice. There is one paragraph in Maurice that I still read many times over when I come to it. It is the description Forster gives about Penge that is simply a few sentences but so beautifully structured that I am caught it the absolute brilliance of the concise prose Forster employs to completely paint the picture of this crumbling British estate. But most of the book is like that. His prose is so well-crafted in the piece that it became a bit of a hallmark for me. I want to write, not necessarily in that style, but to that sort of structure. Only from a first-person perspective, because I think they are the most revealing. I’ve also recently picked up the un-abridged edition of Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray – which is decidedly far more homoerotic than the original publisher would allow in his day.

Okay, I’m spent.

I’ve done my bit of a rant now. Not that it does anyone any good (me included).

And to be clear – though I know I will be taken to task on it (as a sidebar in case you’re wondering: I don’t care) – I think there is room for the fluff; I am just saying that can we all aspire to write to a higher purpose at times? Or is the all mighty buck the be all/end all now?

That’s my worry. I think I may be a dying breed or a breed that has already passed. Too late to the actual literary party.

Eh, maybe I’ll just give it all up at the end of the year.

If only my boys in my head who have stories to tell would let me get away with that. But I know they won’t.

So I tinker away at it while others laud and applaud themselves for being “yay this, and yay that.”

My take on it? I think, if Angels sells by some odd miracle of fate, I would be so humbled by it I think I might go into seclusion. Which is rather odd for me, because I am a child of the theatre – I’ve been performing in front of large houses (several thousand seats) since I was a child (under a different name). Yet, success in the literary world would scare the bejesus out of me. Perhaps because maybe that would lead me to think that my work would be in the pantheon of Vidal, Forster, Wilde and the like.

To be clear, I don’t think I am in their league. Not yet, at any rate.

But I press on.

Until next time …

SA C

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Our Dirty Little Secret…

Our Dirty Little Secret

A discussion with Savannah Smythe on the release of her new work – Dirty Little Secret and a few other topics that cropped up…

 

Dirty Little Secret - by Savannah Smythe

Dirty Little Secret – by Savannah Smythe

 

SA Collins: So when do you think you can recall when you found yourself bit by the whole writing bug? Was there some impetus that got you into writing?

Savvy Smythe: I’ve always loved weaving stories, even from a very young age, probably to get me out of some kind of trouble, I guess.  But I never thought of writing anything down until after my first child was born.  I think it was boredom more than anything else.  I was hitting the treadmill at the gym and my daughter was in daycare, and my first character just kind of popped into my head and said “Hello.”

Actually, that’s a lie.  He said something like “Hey, bitch, I want a woman and a decent story. Get to it.”  He can be rude like that…

 

SA Collins: Yeah, that’s usually a hallmark of a writer: our characters really sort of control us – dictate when things need to get done.

Savvy Smythe: Absolutely.  I think all writers with fiction should identify with this, and sometimes you need to go with the flow and see what comes out.  It can surprise you.  It sure as hell surprised me!

 

SA Collins: Did your writing always have the erotic slant it has now? If so, why do you think that is? If not, how did it evolve into that?

Savvy Smythe: It certainly didn’t start out as erotica, although I’ve never shied away from portraying sexual scenes between my characters.  How the erotica thing started was simple.  I couldn’t get the damned book published so I sliced, diced and spiced it as an experiment, because sex sells, right?  I knew I had a juicy story, but it needed a lot more juice to interest the erotica market.

To answer your other question, I guess I’ve always been interested in, not the ins and outs of sex per se, but the interplay between characters, the growing intensity of feelings and setting moods where sensual happenings can take place

 

A little man on man action never hurts...unless its done right.

A little man on man action never hurts…unless its done right.

 

SA Collins: So, given that, did you find that your sales changed when your writing did? Or was it a slow evolving process? Do you still see your work as erotica? Because, here’s my take on it: I really don’t think that sexual situations make it erotica. Sex is a part of the human condition. I think what erotica is is a piece written to titillate and inflame, sometimes at the expense of a real story, but when woven into a real bona fide tale, then I think it crosses back over to adult fiction. I think you can have a sexually active and sex positive character without it being erotica. Do you know what I am getting at here?

Savvy Smythe: Yes, I do, and I agree on the whole.  There are different levels of erotica though.  In my mainstream contemporary fiction books, the sex is used as a potent way of luring two characters together and making them want each other, and when they do, it’s fireworks.  But in my role as an erotica writer, the sex is definitely the most important thing.  I wrote straight erotica for Virgin Books for five years, and sales were good enough that they kept renewing my contract, which was great.  But after a while it became slightly boring to be honest because the sex was the main event (as it has to be in an erotica book, obviously.)  The challenge was to make it interesting.  Actually, I nearly got my editor fired because my attempt at making it interesting contravened several decency laws – oops!

So yes, there is a big difference between the role that sex plays in erotica and “mainstream” fiction.  And this goes back to what I was saying about different forms of erotica.  There are the one-handed reads, and books with characters that people can actually get involved with.  Three dimensional characters with stories that don’t insult the intelligence of the person reading them.  And that’s what I tried to do.

 

SA Collins: Fair enough. The reason I bring it up is that when I started I first listed myself as an erotic writer but after Angels fully took form it was clear that while sex was present, the sexual situations psychologically advanced the characters (more than just bringing them together) in that my shy boy became increasingly more assertive in his life – every facet of his life – which said to me that the sex, while erotic in nature, really was a different device altogether. I get the whole differing degrees of erotica writing – and I am not disparaging it as a whole genre, but I often wonder if we’re too motivated to label it as such when maybe we aren’t seeing the greys in those erotic levels as something else altogether. You know?

Savvy Smythe: Yes, and a lot of it comes down to marketing and being honest about the genre the book is for.  And that isn’t necessarily the market you assume it is for when you write it, if you assume anything at all.  Black Lace (Virgin Books) was obviously erotica, aimed at women, and that was easy because I knew my genre.  Since then, I haven’t written any erotica until this year, when I began What You Wish For, which eventually turned into Dirty Little Secret.  I wrote the book, knowing I was writing erotica, but I hadn’t given any thought about who it was aimed at, I was just writing the story.  Because once you start getting hung up on markets, etc., your creativity can go out the window.  In a way, this is what happened with What You Wish For, which is why it eventually became DLS.

And sex is obviously a great selling point, but just because there is a lot of it in a book, doesn’t make it erotica, necessarily.  I’m saying that sometimes, erotica isn’t always there to give a thrill, but to engender all kinds of emotions in the reader. As well as giving a thrill!

 

A little 411 on the DLS low-down.

A little 411 on the DLS low-down.

 

SA Collins: So you mentioned Dirty Little Secret, which is your recent release, right? How did that happen – it started out as a straight erotica piece, right?

Savvy Smythe: It did, and I guess it was aimed at women because that’s the erotica market I’ve always written for.  Straight men on the whole don’t read a lot of erotica.  They like to see the T and A before their eyes.

 

SA Collins: True enough – men are very visual.

Savvy Smythe: But then a strange thing happened.  My two male characters fell in love before my eyes.  It was a natural process and I can honestly say I didn’t force the issue.  It just came about.  So I went with it, again not thinking about the marketing issue, although I wanted to publish the story in three parts.  But when I had finished the story and had three parts, one of straight erotica and two of gay erotica, I immediately saw I had a problem. Maybe this is an assumption here, but I guessed that gay men wouldn’t be interested in straight erotica featuring women, but I wasn’t so sure about women wanting to read gay erotica.  So I did some digging and began to read gay erotica. Actually, I had been reading gay erotica as soon as I knew I was going to write it, to find out what I was up against.

 

SA Collins: Is it something you find interesting to write about? Or was this a one off “walk in a different park” sort of thing?

Savvy Smythe: I feel very comfortable writing about men, either in sexual situations or in burgeoning relationships, but I’m aware that I have a lot to learn.  I didn’t want to insult people by just swapping women for men and writing “dick lit” because men and women’s motivations are totally different.

 

SA Collins: Now you’ve hit upon one of the things that sticks in my craw about the M/M genre as it stands now. As a gay man/author I have collected a number of these writings and what truly astounds me is how very little it has to do with what our lives are like. I mean, I am all for the fantasy of a good yarn, but some of the emotive qualities are completely off the mark of how men feel – and often gay men at that. I think it stems from women not really getting that as a gay man you always, whether you can play off the straight male thing in society or not, are looking over your shoulder, sometimes swapping pronouns to make people around you comfortable. Yet the works in the genre never really reflect that. So while it’s “gay” it really is with air quotes completely implied. Do you think that the genre needs some evolving in that manner? Or do you think it is what it is…? I know it’s one of the reasons why I refuse to ally myself with that sort of market as my main market. Because my work will not follow those sort of entrenched guidelines..

Savvy Smythe: I think that every genre is evolving, mostly thanks to the ebook market.  People have access (should they choose to accept it) to almost any fiction they please.  But yes, to answer your last question, the gay erotica I read, written by women is very different to that written by men.  It seems to be either fantasy (wolf/biker/shapeshifter) or the other stereotypes (soldier, cop, mechanic) and I think that says a lot more about what the writer finds erotic than what her audience will.  Not that there is anything wrong with that but don’t mistake it for bona fide erotica aimed at gay men.

The erotica I’ve read by men is a lot more meaty, with more of their senses being used – which is surprising to me but very enlightening.  Also, every book I’ve read reflects the “over the shoulder” situation you described, where as a lot of women tend to write about being gay and proud of it, or being completely and happily segregated from “normal” society. So in order to write erotica for the gay market, I want to learn to write more like a man, and that is something which I find really exciting.  I’m not degenerating women’s writing AT ALL.  There are some really gritty women writers out there.  I want to be one of them.  Dirty Little Secret is a bit of fun, a toe in the water, but I’ve learned a lot since then.

 

Who doesn't need a little hug now and then?

Who doesn’t need a little hug now and then?

 

SA Collins: I sort of liken it to me writing about a young black woman – I might be able to imagine it, I might even be in the midst of the community, but there is something intrinsically truthful about the work when it comes from the source. I don’t blame women writing M/M erotica for their own pleasure but what I find sort of bewildering is all of the rainbow cons that really don’t seem to have very much to do with what we are working towards. To me its more about women who love the hell out of men (as do gay men) but write about them in gay situations as they would like to fantasize about men but the ‘gayness’ of them really isn’t much in play here other than its homosexual in nature.  I think the genre as a whole needs to do a little soul searching and more gay male voices need to rise to the top and write about us as we really are. Only then will the genre as a whole evolve. Otherwise I think it will just be women fantasizing about men as they want to see them rather than what we truly are… does that make sense?

Savvy Smythe: Yeah, it does, although I would say that it isn’t the role of erotica to reflect the angst going on in real life.  One of the big no-nos in straight erotica are characters with kids.  No-one wants to read about child-care arrangements before the fucking starts.  They don’t want to hear about women with problems juggling their lives, or non-consensual sex (another rule I broke – I’m all about breaking rules) or any of the other issues that people in “normal” life experience.  It is a fantasy after all.

But, this also begs the question about what motivates women to write gay erotica.  Yes, a lot of it is a fantasy about what gay men are like in bed. And I think some women do it because they feel SAFER writing about gay men.

 

SA Collins: Why? Because they think gay men aren’t reading it to say – hey, wait a minute there —where am I in all of this? What do you mean by safer?

Savvy Smythe: Because they can have their kicks writing and reading about it without feeling they have to compete.  In erotica books, the heroine is mostly beautiful, or has some quality that makes her irresistible to the hero.  Some women feel threatened by that and think, “I would never be like that.  I don’t want to hear about some bitch with perfect tits getting banged by Mr. Hardjaw.” But put Mr. Hardjaw with Mr. Sexyabs and hell, yes!

 

SA Collins: That sort of seems rather simplistic in a way. I mean you’ve read a bit of my book… right?

Savvy Smythe: I’m reading it now, but as you said, your book isn’t erotica, it’s a character study.  Erotica is there mainly for one purpose, and that is to get off, right?  DLS is erotica.  I want to make it intelligent but to be honest, I wanted to turn people on first.  And THAT is the prime purpose of erotica

 

SA Collins: True enough but let’s talk character for a second. I think that in erotica (or hell, even mainstream lit fic) women make a very interesting mistake in my mind when writing male characters. I think because in their own lives they hear the brevity of how we communicate and make an assumption that things go on like that in our heads. That we think in bits and bytes and not strung together long trained thoughts. In Angels almost 70 percent of it is Elliot’s (my protag) inner monologue. Men do think quite intensely and prolonged as we analyze our world around us – the difference is we don’t talk a lot about it. Gay men more than our hetero counterparts to a degree, but even so – gay men have short hand talking that does the same brevity communication that our straight brothers do. Most female writers miss the boat on that. I found that to be rather telling. It was one of the reasons why Elliot’s part of my series is so inside his head. It was far more interesting for me to express him internally (thus, the character study) yet, walk you through what he feels and thinks while he’s having hot man-on-man action…

Savvy Smythe: Men are from Mars, women are from Venus?

 

menmarswomenvenus

The whole Men and Women thing – sorta lost on me, but Savvy seems to know quite a bit about it…

 

SA Collins: The inner monologue men go through isn’t as developed as I think it can be. I think it is simplistic for most (definitely not all) female writers to assume that how the men in their world act are how we really are. I think the inner monologues are not as complex as we sometimes can be.

Savvy Smythe: Yeah, I get that.

 

SA Collins: Sure. I mean I turned you onto John Rechy’s work… you said that you found his voice to be very powerful and you were getting some of that from him, right? Did it surprise you to read his take on male sexuality?

Savvy Smythe: I think we women make the assumption that men are simple souls, because to be honest, men have told us that for long enough.  Perhaps to stop us over-thinking things we have no hope of understanding? It wasn’t a surprise to read John Rechy’s take but it was enlightening, because I, like a lot of women have always thought that men are more visual than anything else.

 

The Sexual Outlaw as I saw it in 1979.

The Sexual Outlaw as I saw it in 1979.

 

SA Collins: True enough. I mean my daughter is on match.com looking for potential boyfriend material and one guy got playful with her and started to talk about the big trucks and tractors he drives around at work (like a big boy would). She got all over analytical about it and I stopped her in her tracks and said – “Sweetie, sometimes a tractor or a truck is just that. He’s being playfui, don’t make it a political statement.”

So I get we can be forthright in our statements and they get over-analyzed to the point of absurdity (in most men’s opinions).

Savvy Smythe: I think women are always looking for the hidden message.  It’s a defense mechanism to stop them from getting hurt.  It doesn’t work though.

 

SA Collins: When I read Rechy’s work as a gay teen (this was the late 70’s mind you) it was truly enlightening that all of the things I was questioning about myself as a man (let alone a gay one) were right there in his pages.

Savvy Smythe: A comparative work for women would be The Women’s Room, by Marilyn French.

 

The Women's Room - Marilyn French

The Women’s Room – Marilyn French

 

SA Collins: All of the textures and the senses that we as men go through. This is what I often find missing in M/M erotica… the assumptions are never analyzed by the author – simply taken as hard cold fact about us and not inquired or asked about. I know some men won’t cough up the goods or admit to what really goes on in our heads. In fact, I spend more time talking to my straight friends about their emotional shit that would truly astound their wives and girlfriends. I often laugh that straight women and straight men don’t really get what a great ally gay men are to them. They assume that our sex is so perverse that they can’t possibly be of any help to them. But I know I’ve helped my straight co-workers on a number of occasions because I gave them some insight on why their ladies might be feeling the way they were or expressing themselves how they were.  The dialog is changing but I always sort of laugh on how much of our POV on their own relationships go unasked. I always tell my daughter – I may be gay, but honey, I know my sex…

Savvy Smythe: I think straight women get the gay ally thing.  Most women yearn for a GBF. (Sex and the City, anyone?)  BUT, I think it’s become a bit like a status symbol, rather like a designer handbag. I’d be willing to bet that the women wanting a GBF want him so they can give some insight into men and make them feel good about themselves. Actually, if you examine that dynamic, it looks a bit one-sided. Are the women with GBFs any wiser about how gay men think, feel, function day to day? This is a genuine question because I haven’t a clue! Would be interesting to find out though.

It seems as if we are all shouting at each other over a divide the size of the Grand Canyon. Can women ever really understand what is going on in men’s heads, whether they are gay or not?

 

More on this discussion coming soon – in the interim I highly suggest you check out Savannah’s brilliant and provocative works via the following channels:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Google+

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For me, it’s all about Denmark…

31 Days of Brannan – Day 11

 

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 Today’s Playlist – Denmark

 

So I am finally getting around to my absolute favorite Brannan piece. More than any other this one speaks to me. First off, because of the title. Having been to Denmark and falling madly in love with that country, I was over the moon to find a song on Rob Me Blind when it was released that bore it as a title. I’ve got a thing for all things Scandinavian. Even married myself a man of real Viking descent – seriously – straight down the line from Blue Tooth himself (yes, he really existed, folks – he’s not just a piece of technology that we all swear by).

So yeah, when I watch Vikings on History Channel – it’s sort of a religion for me. My entire Fae Wars series stems from the Norse origins of the Fae. So yeah – Denmark. It was the first damned song I played when I bought the album on iTunes.

The romantic leanings in the opening verse grabbed me hard and refused to let go. The imagery was tight and emotive – deftly measured and realized.

Hey there, baby, have you got a light?
I’m not smoking, but I’m afraid I might
Have fallen down a dark carpal tunnel and landed in your kiss
And in the water from your big, brown eyes, I swam away from a quarter life crisis

I was listening to this song when the idea of Angels of Mercy really began to take form. Where Rob Me Blind was where Elliot was firmly rooted – having something that you aren’t sure will remain yours, Denmark was where I realized I could root Marco, my stalwart and true to his word jock boyfriend.

It was important for me to write this series with the premise in mind. I wanted to pose the question –

What if the geeky out gay kid got the number one jock on campus –

what then?

And it was important that Marco’s character was the strong one. The one who never wavers. He is the rock that Elliot will come to realize he must cling to if he wants to keep what Marco has become to him. But being the gay kid on campus who keeps to the shadows isn’t an easy thing to deal with when you’re dating the most prominent guy on campus. True enough, Brannan uses brown eyes in the verse and neither of my boys are but, I attributed it to literary license when it came to my story. The sentiment still rang true.

In fact, I buried elements from Denmark into the prose of my book whenever Marco was near Elliot. My way of keeping him rooted to the song.

You told me horror stories in room 426
Of wooden boys falling for girls made out of matchsticks
I shoulda strapped you to me with padlocks and glue
So I could spend the rest of my life wearing nothing but socks… and you

My boys are very sexual (as all teens are when left to themselves). I know I was all over the fucking map (literally) when I left my virginal days behind me. I was fairly insatiable about it. We were boys – we didn’t have to worry, like our straight counterparts, about pregnancies and the like – so we just had at it whenever the moment came up, so to speak. Marco and Elliot spend a fair amount of time having sex in the book. But I was careful to use it when it propelled the story forward, taking the boys deeper into the revelations of what being gay and pleasing another man meant for each other.

But it is in the chorus where Marco’s character truly comes to the fore. This is where my guy grounds himself. He even paraphrases Brannan’s line back to Elliot (even if he has no idea that Elliot is a fan of Brannan’s work – it just seemed the right thing to do. If I were a gay teen, I probably would be celeb crushing hard on Brannan myself. Hell, the hubby thinks I do now – well, not really but he teases me about it from time to time).

We got a lot of maybes to muddle through
But my emotional rabies are fixed on crashing through to you
Though governments and distance stand between us, well be fine
Cuz I’m gonna tear this world apart, baby, until you’re mine

This song is deeply moving, not only rhythmically – which Brannan expands his musicality greatly in this (and the other pieces on Rob Me Blind) piece. It has a drive that serves as the emotive undercurrent. The rhythm of the piece is what really helps sell the song (here we get Brannan’s acoustic version – which is deeply emotive and alluring all in it’s own right). I really fucking LOVE the shit out of this song.

And here we come to the next verse which, for me, is how Marco sees Elliot. Elliot is the magic of life to him. The boy moves about in his world and Marco can’t help but be spellbound. It happens from the first moment he spies him on campus – but all doesn’t prove to be an easy road to the love of his life. Elliot, being the out gay kid, has been taunted, teased and abused by jocks on campus. It’s just the way things work. Just when Marco thinks he can come to Elliot and profess his love he overhears what Elliot thinks of jocks in general. And more to the point, how Marco himself has become the poster child for everything bad about the jocks who have hurt him in the past – even if Marco has never said or done one malicious thing to him in the past. How could he? He’s been secretly in love with him the whole time.

You’ll be an artist, I’ll be your hands
Well go the farthest from our lives we can
I’ll swim the ocean, whisk you away
Til were in Denmark, you’ll hear me say

Love the last verse of this song. It holds every element that I imbued in my boys. Elliot is the artist, Marco is the hand who guides him. Marco keeps telling Elliot that once they’re free of their high school days, he’s gonna whisk Elliot far away from their small town life.

They just gotta get there first.

So yeah, Denmark. For me, my first novel, and the boys who inhabit it, we are all deeply rooted and grow from the lines of this song. Jay couldn’t have given me a greater gift than that – and it isn’t lost on me that it never was the point for him. He has his own story about the song – and now, I have mine.

Denmark – I fucking love the country, and now I’ve got an anthem – a theme song for the series. Thanks Mr. Brannan, I’ll always be in your debt.


 

The Always, Then & Now Tour…

Please check out his site with links for his upcoming shows. I am definitely a late comer to the Brannan bandwagon whenever he pulls through my city. But now that I am going this year, I am making it a goal never to miss when he swings through town. I hope you take advantage of the opportunity as well. Also be sure to check out his web store at the following link.

Jay's Website - jaybrannan.com
Jay’s Website – jaybrannan.com

 


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Why can’t we have it all?

31 Days of Brannan – Day 9

 

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Today’s Playlist:  Can’t Have It All

 

Author’s Note: Okay, so I wrote this one yesterday but like the dork I can be – I thought I pressed PUBLISH but instead only saved it as a draft. So here it is, a day late but as they say…

 

I’ve been contemplating the words to this song for some time now. It’s a concept that is not foreign to any of us – gay, straight, whatever race, creed or color. We want the best in life that it has to offer. Jay’s words in this song are universal in their reach and appeal. We’ve all been there at one time or another –

 

applying moisturizer in the microwave window
for the tenth time, he should have call me an hour ago
would he be here with flowers if i loved in Arizona?
they say there’s no love left in the big cities, it’s kinda true
i guess you’ll find me coming soon to the small town near you
i’ll sell my guitar so i can buy myself a tractor
fuck this, this can’t be my life
i moisturized ten times tonight
why can’t i sit down and write,
bring this question to light?

Chorus:
do you want a lover, or do you want a life?
one hand or the other, the butter or the bread knife?
do you choose winter, spring, summer, or fall?
it’s driving me crazy that i can’t have it all

 

The pondering of what if’s. Nothing could be more hellish or cyclic and demoralizing than pondering those romantically laden ‘what-if’s’ – am I right?

Yet, because we strive for that moment of recognition, the ‘I see you…’ from some we find attractive or desirable, if only to validate that we matter somehow in this crazy fucked up world. The constant swimming upstream when everyone else, who already have that special someone get to coast along with the flow of life headed in the opposite direction. If anything so we can put down the struggle to connect with another human being in a meaningful and fulfilling way.

I particularly like Jay’s turnabout moment in the ‘fuck this, this can’t be my life, I moisturized ten times tonight…’ – humorous and yet so revealing in how we all feel at that poignant moment when we feel we just can’t bear it any more. Then that specter called defeat looms over our shoulder and whispers how much simpler it’d be if we just gave up the struggle. If we just pursued some life endeavor that would cloud the loss in us. That would sweep it under the rug of being aggressive in some other fulfilling part of our psyche. Overwhelm the hole in our heart with other pursuits.

Then Jay poses the questions that hang in the balance – ‘Do you want a lover, or do you want a life?’  A simple, if complicated, question to ponder. Ultimately he is pressing the whole concept of why do we have to ponder one over the other at all. But he presses on with the inner debate –

 

if these walls could talk, they’d probably cry out for mercy
’till i’m outlined in chalk, i’ll be romantically thirsty
so i drink and i drink from the proverbial time sink
fuck this, this can’t be my life
tears flowing in full force tonight
why can’t i sit down and write,
bring this question to light?

Chorus:
do you want a lover, or do you want a life?
one hand or the other, the butter or the bread knife?
do you choose winter, spring, summer, or fall?
it’s driving me crazy that i can’t have it all

 

So now we’re at the emotive moment where we’re ready to throw in the towel. We’re over it – though our hearts scream and plead with us to keep up the search, to know that he’s out there, probably just as lost and lonely and we just haven’t turned the right corner, or bumped into them accidentally at the grocery store. You know, one of those movie land moments you see in all the rom-coms? But it is in the bridge that Brannan’s distinctive brand of pathos cuts and reveals the question we all have in ourselves. No matter how confident we may be in our lives, what we feel we’re worth, there is inherently some part of us deep within that constantly ponders – will someone find me special, find me worthy of their love and devotion?

 

Bridge:
do we hold the future, or does it come in peace?
and if it’s in my hands, are you sure it should be in brittle hands like these?
life, love, and the pursuit of, all the things they promised me
can i have all of the above? are the best things in life truly free?

 

These are heady moments when contemplating the value the love of another can bring to our lives. I’m lucky. I’ve got the man in my life that has blessed me with 20 years of his life by my side. Solid, unwavering and resolute that we’ll face everything together – up unto our last breaths. And if there’s a beyond… well, I’m sure we’d find each other then. Somehow.

Which brings us to the same round of questioning as before but with a defiant turn with the last line –

 

do you want a lover, or do you want a life?
one hand or the other, the butter or the bread knife?
do you choose winter, spring, summer, or fall?
it’s driving me crazy that i can’t have it all

 

And therein lies the rub: we should be able to have it all.

 


 

The Always, Then & Now Tour…

Please check out his site with links for his upcoming shows. I am definitely a late comer to the Brannan bandwagon whenever he pulls through my city. But now that I am going this year, I am making it a goal never to miss when he swings through town. I hope you take advantage of the opportunity as well. Also be sure to check out his web store at the following link.

Jay's Website - jaybrannan.com
Jay’s Website – jaybrannan.com



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